The National Union of Journalists has condemned regional publisher Newsquest for “rewarding” newspapers that don’t pay for photographs.
The union claims that Newsquest has given prizes to the “centres that use the most unpaid-for copy”.
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It says that Newsquest’s Weymouth branch, publisher of the Bridport and Lyme Regis News, and the Dorset Echo won £4,000 under the scheme.
According to the NUJ, free contributions from readers made up almost 17 per cent of the centre’s editorial output.
The NUJ is currently running the month-long #useitpayforit campaign to encourage amateur photographers to charge “properly” for their work.
NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser Chris Morley said: “We warned it risked setting Newsquest journalists in different centres against each other in a race to the bottom to maximise profits on the back of not paying for content.
“That has not happened because the scheme has been widely ignored as journalists have seen through it and won’t be bought in this way.
“The aim of senior managers here is not to enhance the reader’s experience as it used to be when eyewitnesses submitted on-the-spot pictures, but to substitute the work of professional journalists wholesale with content submitted – often for laudable reasons – but whose chief attribute in the eyes of the company is that it is free and can be exploited for profit.
“Managers may seek to dress it up as something else but when you look at the behaviour of the company in the round this does not stack up.“
Responding to the claims made by the union, Newsquest editorial development director Toby Granville said: “I’m not sure what the NUJ is getting so excited about.
“Newspapers have always accepted unpaid content submissions from the community. It’s part of the content mix.
“But we launched a competition to encourage better use of UGC [user generated content] to free up reporters to cover more breaking news and be out in the community instead of being at their desks churning out nibs.”
Newsquest currently runs a Camera Club, which its claims has 17,500 members across the country who provide images, although do not cover news and sport.
“This is a ‘club’ not a ‘service’,” said Granville.
“These seasoned amateurs or budding new photographers are capturing life in our communities – whether it’s a beautiful countryside picture or a colourful city event.
“We award cash prizes and hold exhibitions in recognition of their contributions to our titles – and it is about giving our readers the chance to participate, share and engage – which as you can tell by the number of members we have – has been a roaring success.
“So sadly, I’m afraid, the only people who are being ‘cynically exploited’ here are those taking notice of the nonsense being spouted by the NUJ.”